Democracy, irresponsibility, and dictatorship. By Kirubeal Bekele

September 12th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

This is too huge a concept to discuss and fully cover in this painfully short article. But we can summarize the dynamics between democracy, irresponsibility, and dictatorship in more concrete and palatable forms in order to meet our day to day challenges of building a free society in Ethiopia. As all of these factors are contributing to an immense confusion, finding a short and concrete approach to solving our inherent problems of democracy and peace is a must-do critical homework for all forces of democracy involved in Ethiopian politics today.

I have a deep suspicion and even fear that most of us may not really know what we actually want when we say we are for democracy. Democracy is not a form of government where everyone does whatever he or she wants. This may be true to some extent in our personal lives. Even this one has so many restrictions that are out of our control that force us to change course against our will. Imagine the complexity we are facing when we want to implement democracy to our society at large with more than eighty ethnic groups and different variety of political spectrums.

This makes the issue of responsibility an absolute requirement to bring real democracy anywhere including in Ethiopia. To be responsible means to do or not to do several things based on the objective conditions prevailing at the time. For instance, to completely give up our rights in exchange for security and economic prosperity is a lack of responsibility. To completely trust anyone individual or party is not only being naïve but it is also becoming irresponsible. On the contrary, being suspicious and totally untrusting of all politicians and their efforts is another side of reflecting our lack of responsibility. To not have a healthy balance of reality and idealism is another form of irresponsibility. Seeking a democracy that is too idealistic to be true is a recipe for disaster. It certainly leads to anarchy. And you know who comes in when anarchy is created. The problem solvers and the risk takers will show up. These are mostly, if not all, the future dictators.
Another irresponsible act that hutches dictators is intolerance. We don’t have to tolerate the intolerable but we should tolerate others even if we don’t agree with them. We should be able to disagree with them without being nasty and disagreeable. If we don’t, we are, deliberately or unconsciously, sabotaging our efforts to build a democracy. That is why irresponsible people can never attain or build a democracy. In fact, the fate of such a society is dictatorship under a few individuals or usually under a single dictator. So it is very crucial that we actually know what we want and know how to achieve it, if we don’t want to fail again after paying the enormous price needed to change a ruthless dictator such as Zenawi and his breed.

A case in point is Egypt and now Libya. In Egypt, the military is maneuvering to steal power from the revolution that brought down Mubarak. In Libya, as the rebels are nearing complete victory over Gaddafi, they have started infighting between themselves that may lead to a new crisis. This probably requires a new dictator to solve it unless the Libyan rebels assume responsibility soon and avert the crisis. Otherwise, Egypt and Libya are on their way to succumbing into the hands of new dictators that may step in as problem solvers and risk takers that dictators usually are when they first come on the scene. If they do, all that sacrifice we witnessed in living color in front of our television screens will be in vain. Can you imagine all that blood spilt for nothing?

For those of us who are lucky enough to live in the United States, Europe, or in a democracy in general, we have had the best opportunity to see democracy in action. Here in North America, there is a concept called “separation of powers”. This is the crux of the American democracy. It is the engine of the American government and all its institutions. The American government structures are designed in such a way that the political system in no way or form lets power to concentrate in one or a few individuals. Power, by its nature, has one unique trait. Like a magnet, it has this innate nature to always gravitate towards few people and eventually to one person. This is not waxing philosophy or splitting hairs. We have all witnessed this power dynamics in Ethiopia and in almost all these non-democratic banana republics. This has always been the case in all of the pre-democratic human history as well as in the animal kingdom. Isn’t that an amazing thought? A real democratic so ciety is the only human society on earth. If it is not a democracy, it is just another version of the animal kingdom just like the monkey, or the lion or the elephant society.
The Derg was a military junta consisting of 120 people when it started. After a while, power began to concentrate in a few individuals like Mengistu, Teferi Benti, Aman Andom, and others until it finally and totally fell in the hands of Mengistu. This of course led to a ruthless dictatorship by one man where everything was decided by Mengistu . It is the same story with Meles Zenawi. He concentrated power in his hands through a gradual process of purging and eliminating his opponents within TPLF.
In both cases, there is no separation of powers or if there is, it is a fake one. Ethiopia and other dictatorships have a pseudo-parliament and a fake judiciary system. But they are not independent powers. They are just tools or burecratic structures to implement the will of the dictator in whose hands power is concentrated. In both of these dictatorships, the separation of power structures are there but the substance of real separation of powers is absent. In other words, they are structures that add more power to the dictator let alone taking most or even some of the power from the dictator.
Separation of powers in the United States is expressed in the three branches of governments. They are the US house representatives and the US senate, the Judiciary, and the Executive body which is the presidency and the white house. Not one branch has any right to make an important decision pertaining to the United States all by itself except the Presidency in rare cases. For example, the President’s right to declare war unilaterally without consulting the other branches of power in America. A good example is the Bush Administration unilateral declaration of war in Afghanistan and Iraq . The consequences of these wars are becoming clearer now as a result of which the Presidential power to declare war unilaterally is becoming more controversial in the United States.

It is the spread of this kind of irresponsibility and greed that is currently contributing to the erosion of democracy in America. When the political parties and those who are in position s of power start to make decisions based on their own interests rather than the common interests of the country, it erodes democracy. And thereby weakening the separation of powers that eventually may lead to a dictatorship. This brings me to my next critical point that I have been driving my nail into up to now.

Unless each and every citizen is responsible, democracy won’t work. If both the electorate as well those who are elected do not act in a responsible fashion, not only democracy won’t work but it will also eventually lead to a dictatorship. The million dollar question is how. Irresponsibility in a democracy creates a serious crisis to the point of making the system dysfunctional leading it to bankruptcy, economic as well as political. This will give an opportunity for someone or a few people to come up with a solution that can temporarily fix the crisis. But there is a price to pay. Now people have to give up their rights willingly or reluctantly for the relief they have gotten from one or a few individuals. The solution to the crisis should have come, no matter how long it takes, from those power structures designed according to the principle of the separation of powers.

Mengistu become an absolute dictator neither by wisdom nor by talent. He didn’t have either. He was the only one determined and fearless when the rest of the Derg members were contemplating and wavering to remove Emperor Haile Selassie. Everyone at the time wanted the emperor to go but Mengistu was the only one courageous enough at the time to lead that daunting task of removing Haile Selassie. Mengistu stepped up to the challenge and this of course solved the crisis. And power went right into his hands and kept it for another gruesome and bloody seventeen years. Meles has done the same thing. He stepped up to the challenge of solving problems in TPLF opening the door for power to gravitate towards himself. The rank and file members irresponsibly started looking up to him for a solution thereby exchanging security and dependence on Zenawi for a democracy and responsibility of the rank and file members.

Hard times and a great crisis like the one Ethiopia and America are having today will force people to look for one man or party to help them out of the crisis. This is the best opportunity for a dictator to show up with a temporary solution. How many of you know how Hitler came to power? Hitler boosted the German economy like no other. And people including his party members gave up their rights, willingly or reluctantly, in exchange for security and a good economy. The German nation became irresponsible as a country for giving up all that power in return for a prosperous economy. And you know what happened next. The Second World War began and six million Jews were executed.

This phenomenon works even in the United States. When any president of the United States makes the economy work, that person has a good chance of being reelected. It does not matter how good this person is as a president, he will never be elected more than twice . And this is a very efficient mechanism to stop people’s tendency to give up their rights in exchange for a good and vibrant economy. This is how responsible citizens act in a democracy that works.

Have you seen any issue being decided quickly in the American politics? The answer is no. You know why? An immediate political decision is usually made by a dictator or, if it is in a democracy, by elected members who show a lack of responsibility. If a democracy has to work, each and every issue has to be dealt as long as necessary without resorting to a never-ending gridlock. Nobody likes gridlock. Believe me, it is a good thing unless it is overdone like the one we are seeing now in the US congress where tolerance is so low and irresponsibility is running too high to the point where everything has become controversial. This is the other extreme of eroding democracy by irresponsibility and intolerance that may lead to anarchy and finally to dictatorship.

You know a dictator does not just drop down from the sky. Leave it or take it, we are the ones who are responsible for creating these suckers. Primarily, before an individual becomes a dictator, he was a problem solver and a risk taker. In addition, such a potential dictator has a tremendous courage to take the necessary risk and do the will of the people though temporarily. Naturally people are attracted to such a person. And this is how people are sucked into his grip and eventually lose all their rights for the temporary solution he may have brought to their desires and challenges.

So the take home message is this. Yes, we want our problems solved. Sure, we want solutions to our crisis. But we want it done in such a way that we are responsible like a citizen so as not to lose our democratic rights in exchange for security and economic well being. That is why the Separation of powers in America makes sure that a dictator does not emerge in two ways. First of all, people representatives including the president are elected. And nothing can be decided by the president alone no matter how good he is. Second, any American president can serve only two terms even if he has the ability and the leadership to bring 0% unemployment in the United States. This is how a real democracy functions. A real democracy never lets power to concentrate in one man or a single body of government while at the same time making sure the system functions properly no matter how slowly. A reasonable degree of political gridlock is a good thing to let democracy work as it should. The workings of a democracy should never be compromised by a political expediency either. This is the surest way to prevent democracy turning into a dictatorship. And true separation of powers is the magic principle that protects and safeguards a genuine democracy.

We Ethiopians have got problems. A lot of problems. We are seeking solutions. We need relief as soon as possible. If someone or some party comes along to solve our problems, I am sure we will embrace this power. Sure, we will have our problems solved temporarily. But at what price? By giving our rights as citizens? If we do, we ourselves will create another dictator that will eventually destroy all the gains when he becomes busy to protect his power. And he will bring us back to where we started from adding another round of problems and crisis that are waiting for a new potential dictator to solve. And the cycle of misery continues. So we should very carefully analyze the dynamics that exists between democracy, irresponsibility, and dictatorship.

For embracing anybody, be it a party or an individual, problem solving should not be the only criteria we should implement. We should also consider how these problems are solved. That is why in politics, I always say we deserve what we get. I am afraid this may also be true in everything else. Therefore, we should very carefully analyze the magic formula of the separation of powers and its impact on the dynamics between democracy, irresponsibility, and dictatorship. If not, we are on our way to create a new dictatorship as we have always done. Do you want another sucker after twenty years of abuse, political terror and absolute dictatorship? If your answer is no way Hosse, then let us be responsible. Let us be wise and careful in exercising our rights. Democracy without responsibility will either directly or indirectly via anarchy leads to dictatorship. Never, never and never forget responsibility in your quest for democracy in Ethiopia. Never!

The writer can be reached at

  1. Sheger
    | #1

    Sir, the fact that we wore never colonized had blinded a lot of people countries and societies. We can star by saying
    Don’t hate Ethiopia because of what happened in thousands of years of human history no matter wrong or right not according to your imagination or conclusion of it. People did what was right them most of them time.

    The other thing is don’t blame Ethiopia for that other people do like colonialistes, the fact that we wore hardly colonized
    Was that we fought not some gift from some body. The world knows this. Ask the colonizers if you don’t believe me or Ethiopia.

    The solution we need in Ethiopia is staying to gather stay united and live in one heart respect each other and the world around us. If possible unite with the world around us. Help those in need help our selves and every thing I can explain this in languej of politics but it will still sound the same. If you don’t care any ways to begin with nothing matters to you
    Except your own selfish agenda.

    Frost of all even though god said he gave man kind the world we all have our own countries and so on until we all
    Recognize that and know that we live in one planet and decided to share the planet peacefully we have to hold on to
    What we have and preserved as our own country. Unless it is the world of some reach and powerful people not the world of Man. And we all paid so much for what we have. So we should stay Ethiopians and help the people and the country in all and move forward illuminating problems and problematic thoughts and people with problematic ideas.

    We should help and help with our understanding when people are with problem and problematic some time this people
    Have agendas or some real problems. Help those if you could but you can’t allow problem to end the world or your
    Country or the world.

    Interns of leadership unless may be not even for sure but may be you have constitution like Americas that is well constructed you can not with this for Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government changes it’s law day and day out and it is not even the peoples law that is in Ethiopia but TPLF/EPRDF law and we don’t know who this people are.

    I am not a lawer but we need a law by the people and a constitution that is by the people not just by the people
    But that protests our freedom and democracy for all a law that is protective of all our lifes and values, country and it’s
    territory.and it’s natural rights as a nation. Like just because some drinker and drugiest mafia group want to separate
    Eritiria from Ethiopia on what ever influence or idea it doesn’t mean some body is doing some thing good. So there has to be law that can iliment this kind of doings. It won’t help any body. At end for all you know you can be asked to stay at your house. And what kind of end is that?????????????….I mean to the thought?????????

    I haven’t read the whole article yet but as I read more I will wright more. Even though that could be just it if I am not wrong.

  2. Sheger
    | #2

    You will not win more of me by mis spelling my unsure spellings daer. Computer controller. To may understanding
    You should learn how to write in English first. If you said now for know naw for now I would have agreed with u messing
    Up may spellings that are already messed up in nature or from it’s creater.

    I am not saying this to you Kirubel or may be even Abugida. But some thing is Funny. My Inglish (English) is funny enough(enafe) (inafe) already.

    One love!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    One Ethiopia!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Democracy Vs Ethiopianism
    | #3

    Dear writer I want to express my appreciation and respect for your insightful article that originates from such a great wisdom.When a democratic society can not be built overnight and hence democracy is a gradual process, it also means what you explain in this article mainly related to responsibility.
    Hence democracy can not be just merely achieved through mere election that happens every 4 or 5 years.
    Democracy is also the result of gradual personal or individual development in every aspect of life in a society. And hence democracy is also the result of such individuals who can feel and bear responsibility.
    And hence for me even to the extent that Democracy and responsibility are two sides of the same coin.
    If we are not honest and can not take full responsibility for the consequences that result from our thoughts and actions in life, then we can not properly utilize our inherent free will as a human being.
    The most confusion in our stereotypical politicians a rise from this misunderstanding about democracy.
    They just want to preach and inculcate the ordinary society and plunge it in to a sort of illusion and fantasy as if democracy is with out responsibility. There is as such nothing new under the sun as the famous and legendary king Solomon said it already. And hence is democracy/dictatorship as such something different from our day to day life experience? Not at all. We experience both, starting from our childhood, in our day to day experience any where any time. And hence neither democracy nor dictatorship comes in to existence jut overnight. Both are gradual process. And hence both are cultivated and developed at a grass–root level in a society? While we even cultivate and encourage dictatorship in our day to day life at a grass-root level in a variety of subtle ways then how comes that we are able to fight or avoid it at the higher levels? The same is true for democracy.
    The very saying that democracy is a gradual process does not imply that we have to accept a blatantly rigged election deliberately done like that of Weyane in previous bogus elections. It as nothing to do with the saying. When we say democracy is a gradual process it mainly related to being honest and taking responsibility and things related to voluntarily cultivating dictatorship like the way the writer mentioned as problem solvers. If somebody is to abuse the very saying that democracy is a gradual process in order to deliberately rig elections blatantly then we better not even undertake elections if we are naïve and uncivilized to this extent. Such events are the most paradoxical things for me. I mean how comes that a society that even does not have the minimum required trust and honesty on the result of ballots and that reputedly disagrees and creates violence on this basis even talk about democracy.
    For the sake of the result of ballots during election times even our culture and the ten commandments prohibits such act of blatant cheating and falsehood and are hence good enough by themselves to prevent such immoral and bad acts. That is why I am usually not comfortable with the very word democracy when inculcated in our society by naïve and stereotypical politicians. Because the very word when used by such personalities usually side lines or ignores the so called responsibility and directly or indirectly implies to the ordinary society that there is such a free ride with out limit. The second thing I that there is also a very vital word called justice. The word has such a very deep meaning in that in life there are many aspects of life that can not be covered or addressed by the only word Democracy. If democracy is such a thing for us to do what we want according to our rights and potential then how about those who are poor and weak individuals who are not able as such to properly utilize and exercise their democratic rights at their full potential? Here comes the most vital thing called justice and humanity. With justice and humanity we help and protect the weak and the poor. The very complicated and multifaceted issues of life in this complicated world can not be as such addressed by Democracy alone. How about the current financial and economic chaos created in the developed world that has been exercising democracy the way the writer some how explained it? Is it not important to interpret, understand and hence act, like democracy is not only to free choice what ever we want to do but also something that we wisely make choices based on what we must choose and what we really need in life? Why the problem solvers emerge during challenging times and turn in to a sheer dictator gradually? How about the war on terror and the Patriot act related to Democracy? What is the very definition and understanding of democracy among the few who control power and rule and to the contrary among the majority mass being ruled?
    How about the laws of nature and the laws of social science related to democracy? How about humanity and its related life support systems related to Democracy? What sort of coherence there has to be between those related things and democracy? In what sort of domain we are thinking about democracy?
    With regard to our currently troubled and poor country Ethiopia, how is democracy related to our own very integrity and unity as an Ethiopian that is of very survival nature?
    Let me use a certain analogy though it may not be a perfect one in al directions. But i can not get a better one for the time being. A horse and a cart. And let’s take two vital things that are of critical issues for we Ethiopians currently. Integrity & Unity of Ethiopia Vs Democracy. Then which one is the cart and which one is the horse? A bad question? Or an irrelevant one? Or a poor analogy?
    Any way I still want to use it. If we want or need the combination of the two, i.e. the horse and the cart then we definitely must keep up the usual and normal way of the sequence in that the horse should be the leader and the cart the follower behind the horse. Analogically, if we want or need the combination of the two, Integrity & Unity of Ethiopia Vs Democracy then there must be a natural and normal sequence that is based on the history of creation, establishment and development of nation states in the world.
    I think we are somehow confused in this case. Even if we belong to a certain common domain in that we agree we want and need the combination of the two we are some how confused as to how we properly combine them for a better life and a better nation to come in the future. Well even the horse and the cart can live independently, especially the horse is a living one with life. And in that case my analogy is a poor one in that one is living thing and the other is non living thing. However, understand and fill the gap in the weakness of my analogy and view our current problem and confusion in that respect.
    For me at least for these challenging times we better make a priority to our Integrity & Unity of Ethiopia and make it a living horse. Let’s not kill or weaken this very meaningful and living entity that is of very historical for many centuries and even millennia that is more worthy than the non living thing the cart.
    If we want and need and in fact be able to combine it let’s do it properly in a way that will not kill or harm the living one. And if we do not need the combination that much, though we want it and at the same time are not as such capable to do so properly, let’s live with the living horse as usual that is of more worthy and more vital to us. The current generation, in this issue, is we not confused with the sequence and with the priority of the importance? Let’s be honest and responsible when we talk about democracy just as a sensible human being not as a selfish, hypocrite and stereotypical ordinary politicians.I thing the problems in life and in this world are perhaps more complicated beyond the issue and the luck of democracy that we define and reiterate it as usual. I recently heard on TV that the prime minister of Turkey sorrowly asserting or confessing that the recent famine and its tragic aftermath in Somalia is the result of sheer injustice. I agree with it. And in fact it is also the result of irresponsibility as well in that Somalia is cursed or is made doomed to live like this as a stateless nation for the last 20 Years. What the rest of the world, especially the 3rd world like we Ethiopians, lea from this tragic event and democracy? How are we intending or planning to explore and utilize democracy? How we define it and how much we understand it? If democracy is not to nurture and save humanity from its very endangered position what is its ultimate meaning and purpose after all?
    If democracy is sometimes like a fire or an alcoholic drink then how we use it wisely?
    Integrity & Unity of Ethiopia Vs Democracy is the current challenge of the current generation to unravel its puzzles.
    Finally I really appreciate the writer again in his somehow unique approach to address democracy with its very related vital word called responsibility which is usually ignored by typical Ethiopian politicians.

  4. tazabi
    | #4

    I appreciate your effort but the following statement is wrong. Look at Aricle 1, section 8 of the US constitution and you will see that the right to “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;”

    Good luck

  5. true
    | #5

    Well written. I am happy that more people are involved in Ethipia’s cause especially we don’t want fanatic ones who divide our country but some one with wisdom and consciousness who has knowledge about democracy all over the world. We Ethiopians should set up a think tank and do extensive research what will be the right democracy for Ethiopia. As we know, we are not like the West where only one language is spoken, homogeneous society so it is very important to adapt the good part of Western democracy that really works in the society like ours and while integrating what we already have for example using the Wakaaa system, using elders, etc. For instance, Ghana’s democracy they didn’t just apply the Western-style democracy but they took from there at the same time they kept their own traditional system that worked for centuries ago. In most cases, the trational ones involves elderlies in conflict transformation for instance.

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